Clause 7. — (Special Provisions for Shortage or Abundance of Water.)

Orders of the Day — SPRAY IRRIGATION (SCOTLAND) BILL [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 20th July 1964.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock 12:00 am, 20th July 1964

I beg to move, in page 5, line 39, after the first "that" to insert: if occasioned by exceptional shortage of rain". The Clause deals with special provisions for shortage or abundance of water, and subsection (1), which I seek to amend, deals with the position arising where there is a shortage of water occasioned by reason of either exceptional shortage of rain or other emergency. In such circumstances power is given to the river purification board to impose a temporary restriction on the abstraction of water, and in extreme cases it may even suspend the operation of licences altogether. Then we have the proviso, which was probably put in in another place: Provided that that restriction or, as the case may be, that suspension shall apply equitably to all licences relating to the stream or locality in question. I wonder about the words: exceptional shortage of rain or other emergency". It is possible to imagine other emergencies leading to a shortage of water in a part of the stream but there might be plenty of water in another part of it, and it would be lacking in common sense for the Measure to say that because one has to take action in one part of a stream where there is no water one has also to take action in the other part where there is plenty of water. I suggest that the Government should accept this very reasonable Amendment.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

The Amendment seeks, I think, to introduce more flexibility into the Bill, and, as I indicated earlier, we want to make it as flexible as we reasonably can. Having listened to the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), I think the Amendment would be an improvement in making the Clause more flexible, and I am, therefore, glad to say that I will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I beg to move, in page 6, line 7, to leave out from "declaration" to "or" in line 8.

The Amendment deals with subsection (2), which is concerned with the problems arising from abundance of water. Once again, we have parenthetically in line 7 the phrase which shall apply equitably to all such licences". It might be as well to have a little flexibility here, too, and I suggest that these words should be deleted.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

Here we see a difference. Where there is abundance of water, I do not think that the circumstances which the hon. Gentleman mentioned on the last Amendment would apply. We feel that it ought to be made clear that the river purification board should deal with all licensees equitably and that the extra water should, therefore, be made available on an equitable basis to all licence holders. While I appreciate the object behind the Amendment, I think that it would be better in this case to retain these words.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

It all depends on circumstances. Why should we be as grandmotherly as this and tell the boards to do what, obviously, if the circumstances were as the hon. Member suggests, they would do anyway? We should exercise a certain amount of discretion. If the boards are to have all the authority and standing which we have been led to believe they are to have, those words are not necessary. But evidently the Government are wedded to them and would collapse if they were removed. Who am I to deny them, in their dying days, the power and privilege of retaining these words?

Amendment negatived.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I beg to move, in page 6, line 11, after "them", to insert "(a)".

Photo of Mr Robert Grimston Mr Robert Grimston , Westbury

I suggest that we discuss, at the same time, the following Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) in page 6, line 12, at end insert: (b) any decision under (2) of this section to all other persons, authorities or bodies known to them to be affected and in the case of a suspension of licences under subsection (2) shall publish in the local press details of such suspension.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

That would be convenient, Sir Robert.

Subsection (3) requires that A river purification board shall communicate any decision taken by them under this section to the holders of licences affected thereby. I suggest that we add a new paragraph: (b) any decision under (2) of this section to all other persons, authorities or bodies known to them to be affected and in the case of a suspension of licences under subsection (2) shall publish in the local press details of such suspension. Obviously, if there is a position of abundance to an extent where licences are suspended, those who require notice of this more than anyone else are those who do not hold licences. Why should we limit notice only to licence holders? If licences were to be in suspension, presumably it would no longer be an offence to abstract water from a control area without a licence. When circumstances change like this, bearing in mind all the paraphernalia of spreading a wide knowledge of what is to be done in the creation of a control area and a licensing system, the boards should let everyone know.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

This, also, is a matter of judgment. I understand the reasons for the Amendment, but weighed against this is the onerous job to be placed upon the boards. It is well-established practice for public bodies responsible for water supplies to advertise in the Press decisions affecting the public, and the river purification boards would be likely to follow it. In any case, my right hon. Friend is prepared to include the desirability of advertising in the guidance which he proposes to give to the boards.

11.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

Does that mean that effectively the hon. Gentleman accepts the Amendment, but does not want to include the words in the Clause?

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

It means that we feel that we ought not to place this as an extra burden on the boards in the terms of the Amendment, but that it should be a matter for the guidance of my right hon. Friend to the boards in indicating, in the sort of circumstances the hon. Gentleman visualises, the desirabilty of the normal form of advertising to which water boards are used in matters of water supply.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

That is not good enough. If a person abstracts water without a licence, he is to be liable to at least a fine of up to £50. If there are circumstances in which a board says that for a period water can be abstracted without a licence, it has now to tell every licence holder. I am suggesting that it should be obliged to tell the public, everyone who wants to abstract water but who may not have a licence. Such people would be the most affected, because they could then abstract water without a licence and without breaking the law. [Interruption.] I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member for Leeds, North-West (Sir D. Kaberry). He knows that I would not do so unless I wanted to hurry the Bill through. I can assure him that he has made more of an intervention in these debates than any Scottish Tory Member, for not a single Scottish Tory back bencher has yet opened his mouth in these proceedings.

The Under-Secretary should remember that we are speaking within the context of a control area, where there has been shortage and where only a few people might have the right to abstract water and where many others might like to have that right, but have been refused a licence. They might have the equipment, but not a licence. If the board decided that the situation was such that people could take as much water as they liked, the licence holders would be in a privileged position. I am saying that everyone should be told by a simple notice in the Press. It would not cost much and, in view of the other responsibilities which the Secretary of State has given to the boards, it would not much of a responsibility.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I am not too happy about the Amendment. As my hon. Friend wishes to amend it, the Clause would read: A river purification board shall communicate any decision taken by them

  1. (a) under this section to the holders of licences affected thereby,
  2. (b) any decision under (2) of this section
to all other persons, authorities or bodies known to them to be affected and in the case of a suspension under subsection (2) shall publish in the local press details of such suspension. I think that this duty which my hon. Friend proposed to impose on the river purification boards to circularise all other persons, authorities or bodies known to them to be affected would be rather onerous. I would be satisfied with publication in the local Press of the fact that licences had been suspended and that people were now free to take water from the river. I think that that would be sufficient. I do not see why the hon. Gentleman cannot include that in the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

My hon. Friend thinks that I am placing a great burden on the boards by asking them to inform all other persons, authorities or bodies known to them to be affected …". Those concerned may be statutory water authorities who have certain rights to extract water. They may be people with fishing rights who are concerned with the preservation of fish in the river. They may be local authorities who are concerned with preventing pollution of the river.

If we relax the restrictions on the abstraction of water, the interests of all those people will be affected. I think that it is only right that they should be informed, because they are vitally concerned with what happens to the river. They can then make representations to the board. It may seem an onerous job, but it will not be all that onerous. I think that it is only fair that people who have rights in the matter, and local authorities who have a statutory interest in what happens to the rivers, should be told about what is happening.

Photo of Mr Eustace Willis Mr Eustace Willis , Edinburgh East

I was apologising to the hon. Gentleman for having missed his words of wisdom on Friday. To be honest, when we saw the great exodus of Tory Members to Scotland, it was thought that at least one Labour Member should go to Scotland to keep a watchful eye on their activities, and that is what I did. There were no Tory Members here on Friday, apart from the Minister, of course, but our side was well represented. They managed to fill quite a few columns of HANSARD.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of certain people knowing about what is being done. When I raised the question of the onerous duty which my hon. Friend was proposing to impose on the boards, I had in mind the fact that certain representations had been made, as a result of which certain provisions were written in to the Schedule to enable the Secretary of State to relieve the boards of the duty to notify every person known to have an interest in the control order if the circumstances merited it.

It was because of those representations that it occurred to me that my hon. Friend was proposing something equally onerous. It may be very difficult for a board to fulfil the duty which my hon. Friend is seeking to impose on it. I make this point because the boards themselves have pointed out the difficulties of doing a job like this.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the importance of certain people knowing about this, but I think that it would be sufficient to publish in the local Press a notice to the effect that there has been a suspension of licences, or that people are free to take water as they want it, or that there are to be certain freedoms for a period of time. After all, many notices which affect a lot of people appear only in the Press.

Most people who are concerned in these matters generally keep an eye on the local Press, and on these notices. It would have been sufficient simply to publish the details in the Press, and I cannot understand why that is not provided for in the Bill. There would have been no harm in simply having a new subsection saying that such details should be published in the Press.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

The Under-Secretary has said that he will make such alteration as is necessary so that the Secretary of State can give a direction to the river purification board to insert an advertisement in the local Press. But when we are dealing with subsection (2) and the additions proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) we are dealing with two situations. In cases where a river purification board relaxes the restrictions for a temporary period it is merely relaxing them to the licence holders.

I take it that they would be notified, as such. But where there is a complete suspension of restrictions for a period, in effect the licences are also being suspended. I can appreciate that where the restrictions are relaxed licence holders can take a certain additional amount of water, but the Amendment has substance in cases where there is a complete suspension. I am well aware of occasions where, owing to a drought, advertisements are inserted in the local Press warning people to be careful with water. That is common practice. But does the Under-Secretary intend that there shall be similar advertisements in the local Press when there is a complete suspension of the restrictions and the licences are in abeyance for a certain period? Legal questions may arise whether water can be taken ad lib by anyone, or whether it can be taken only by those who already have a right to take it—whether it would be an offence for a person from a caravan to cross two fields to take the water, thereby bringing into question the law of trespass.

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

As I said earlier, this is very much a matter of judgment. In the circular which my right hon. Friend would propose to send to the boards for their guidance he would point out the desirability of advertising in these circumstances. The question is whether we should make that mandatory, and also make it mandatory for the boards to notify all the other affected interests.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) has pointed out the objection that there might be from the point of view of the onerous duty of having to notify all interests. It is a question whether we should make advertising mandatory or leave it to the discretion of the boards. There seem to be two aspects of the problem. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) raised the question of various interests, such as the interests of water and local authorities. The purification boards are themselves composed of representatives of the interests most concerned, including the local authorities, and they, in turn, will presumably be able to inform their interested bodies of what is happening.

Then we have the position of other farmers along the river who might want to irrigate their land. It seems unlikely that those who have expensive equipment—unless they had committed some contravention; and we dealt with this issue earlier—and had invested a considerable amount of money in that equipment would not be holding licences. They might not be extracting all the water for which they had applied, but in many cases the purification board would know those with this equipment, anxious to use spray irrigation methods, and one can assume that, unless they were just starting up, they would be licence holders.

These are the objections we see to the Amendment. We are not objecting to it in principle. I am merely pointing out the difficulties. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will draw attention to them in the circular of guidance which will be sent out. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will not be pressed.

11.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Archibald Manuel Mr Archibald Manuel , Central Ayrshire

Would the Under-Secretary clear up one point before we dispose of this matter? If there is a complete suspension for all the farmers bordering a river, will they be permitted to take water during that suspension period?

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

The position is as I indicated on Second Reading, that any riparian owner has the right to take water for the primary purpose. That situation is not changed and, therefore, if a farmer wishes to take water for purposes other than spray irrigation, that right would still be there. The question is whether he would be taking it for purposes beyond that; which brings us back to the question of a river or stream where there is no control area or licensing system.

Amendment negatived.

Question proposed, That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock

I have given the Under-Secretary notice of a question I want answered. He will appreciate that a peculiar position will arise if, on any occasion, there is a temporary suspension of licensing. He will recall that on another occasion we were discussing the words contained in Clause 3(14): In any action brought against a person in respect of the abstraction of water from a source of supply, it shall be a defence for him to prove that the water was abstracted in pursuance of a licence under this Act, and that the provisions of the licence were complied with. The hon. Gentleman has fairly stated that there is an element of doubt whether anyone has the right to abstract water to the extent being done for spray irrigation, but are we not giving a person legal immunity from action; that is, if anyone questions an individual the person could merely say that he has a licence, and that would be a sufficient answer? What will happen during the period when the licence is suspended? Will not that person lose his immunity?

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

As the hon. Gentleman says, he gave me notice of this question by putting down an Amendment. The position would be the same as on a river or stream where there was no licensing system and no control order; that is to say, the immunity under Clause 3(14) would no longer apply. This seems reasonable, because at that time there will be any number of rivers and streams in Scotland where it will be other farmers who are abstracting water for spray irrigation in similar circumstances, so it seems reasonable, and it is our interpretation of common law—

Photo of Mr Gordon Campbell Mr Gordon Campbell , Moray and Nairnshire

Yes, without a licence, because no licence exists unless there is a control order for the purification board area, and it is our interpretation of common law that it is reasonable that if there is a complete suspension of licensing like this the farmers who are undertaking spray irrigation, because they are riparian occupiers, should be in the same position legally as are those who are doing it at a river or stream where there is no licensing system because there is no control order.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.